Owners mourn their losses in marina fire

Published 8:42 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Staff Writer

In the pre-dawn darkness of Jan. 7, Broad Creek was turned into a graveyard for 26 boats consumed by the fire of the north dock at McCotter’s Marina. For most, if not all, of the owners, the grief associated with losing a boat is comparable to losing a family member.
“It broke Mike’s heart to have this wonderful historic yacht lost,” Jody Reynolds said. “We had owned a stunning piece of history.”
Reynolds was speaking of Hermione, an 86-year-old 56-foot Elco motor yacht she co-owned with Mike Wright. In her long history, Hermione was owned by vaudeville actors, an ambassador and a few others before being purchased by Reynolds and Wright nearly four years ago.
The couple awoke on a snowy night in upstate New York to find two policemen standing on their front doorstep asking if they owned a boat in North Carolina. When the couple confirmed they did, the officers told them there was a serious fire that destroyed everything, Reynolds recounted.
“Not a great way to start the day,” Reynolds said. “We were so stunned we could barely talk. Because we took Hermione 800 miles to North Carolina to keep her safe for the winter.”
Wright was so traumatized by the news that he suffered a mild heart attack.
“Thank God it was a mild one,” Reynolds said, adding that any true sailor will grow attached to their boat as though it were a family member.
“She had traveled between Cuba and Nova Scotia, and we had cruised her about 10,000 miles between South Florida and Canada with our two dogs,” Reynolds said. “We took her from upstate New York to North Carolina, arriving there just over six weeks ago, leaving her where we thought she’d be safe for the winter.”
Ironically, Hermione survived another marina fire in Colonial Beach, Va., about 20 years ago. The couple added all though they were fortunate not to be injured, as others were, the loss of their boat is the loss of the last of her kind – an Elco motor yacht.
“People love these boats,” Reynolds said. “They are history.”
Reynolds and Wright have a lifelong love affair with boating and are experienced boaters. They’ve sailed power boats and sailboats, and raced large boats on Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain.
When asked of the devastation in the wake of the marina fire, Reynolds said they are more than devastated.
“We lost our boat, our primary home and a piece of history we’d shared with thousands of people at shows and along the waterways,” she said.
Reynolds and Wright also lost their business, which was charters and shows they had hoped to sponsor.
Dallas and Mary Foreman spent years restoring their boat, Mercedes III, only to see it consumed by flames in the McCotter’s Marina fire.
“They’re just as devastated as we are,” Reynolds said.
The Foremans could not be reached for comment.
According to Reynolds, Hermione was the last of her design, built in 1925. After purchasing her in 2007, they traveled about 12,000 miles on her while renovating her for charter cruises.
“Hermione…was a truly special yacht,” Reynolds said. “So special, in fact, that a famous author, Sloan Wilson, who wrote ‘Man in a Gray Flannel Suit’ and ‘A Summer Place’ fell in love with our boat and wrote a book about her. Unfortunately, our copy was lost in the fire.
“What’s so ironic in our case is that we hadn’t planned to take the boat to North Carolina for the winter. But the last two winters had been so cold, we planned to store her here near Syracuse, where we have a house. But we made a snap decision to take her to North Carolina for the winter.
“We planned to haul her to Belhaven to do some work in the spring, but opted to keep her ‘safe’ in McCotter’s covered sheds for the winter, and had only been there six weeks when the fire destroyed her along with the other boats.”
“Normally, we live aboard Hermione. It’s lucky we weren’t there, unlike others who were aboard their floating homes.
“However, we’ve lost an irreplaceable piece of history,” she said. “We’ve also lost all the time, effort and money we invested in building up a charter business. Now we have charters for next summer up north, but no boat.
Susan Scherer was heartbroken when learning that she lost her boat, Pandora, in the fire. All boaters have fond memories of their vessels, and Scherer remembered the good times she had on her 1980 wooden vessel that was featured in Yacht Style book in 1990, noted for her galley and wheelhouse.
Scherer grew up in the north but came down to Washington because she said it was such a beautiful place for boaters and outdoor enthusiasts.
“Wooden boats are best kept in the water,” Scherer said. “And if you have a boat up north you have to haul it out. It’s just too cold up there and the creek where I had her freezes solid in the winter.”
One of the things she wanted to do when she started working on Pandora was to relocate her to Washington because of how nice the water is.
“It’s brackish water here,” Scherer said. “And the water’s not so bad on the boat.”
Scherer added that her late partner, Erich Eichhorn, a former architect who did drawings of Pandora, refurbished some of the boat himself.
She said they sailed from New York to North Carolina, going from the Outer Banks to Belhaven and finally finding a home for Pandora in Washington.
“We brought (Pandora) down here in summer of 2001 and sailed everywhere,” she said. “When he passed away in 2009, I brought her to Washington, permanently.”
Scherer worked in Belhaven, while living on her boat. Soon afterward, she moved to Washington, bought a house on River Road and put Pandora at McCotter’s Marina.
“When work sort of dried up around here, I had to go back up north and work up there,” she said. “When I found out Pandora was involved in the fire and sank, I was broken-hearted.”
Scherer said she was not in Washington when Pandora was raised and said it was probably a good thing that she wasn’t there.
“Often times, when raising a boat, owners are usually not contacted or not at the site,” she said. “Because there’s an attachment there.”
Other boaters have described losing a boat in situations like this to losing a member of the family. To which Scherer added, she will not get another boat.